Mission Impossible

Academy of the Impossible: education for the internet age


THE REVOLT OF 2012: A CONVERSATION WITH RICK SALUTIN at the Academy of the Impossible (231 Wallace), tonight (Thursday, January 5), 7 pm. $10. impossible.ws.


There’s a school in Toronto that teaches YouTube, the Japanese martial art aikido, forms of hacking and running for public office. Impossible, right?

Right, but the full name of the place is actually the Academy of the Impossible, and it opens this week on Wallace Avenue in the Junction Triangle.

Though the curriculum seems eccentric, it follows the ways of the web. The Academy of the Impossible is about studying what’s online, understanding it and eventually learning to build it – from YouTube accounts to political campaigns. It’s about shaping content-producing, web-savvy minds.

The aikido part leaves me a bit fuzzy about that mandate, though.

“I like fuzzy,” says headmaster Jesse Hirsh, whose voice explains technology on 25 CBC Radio stations across the country. “I like designing this in a way that requires people to put a bit of effort into figuring what it’s about. My attitude is that it filters out people who wouldn’t be interested anyway.”

Hirsh and Emily Pohl-Weary, the school’s executive director, author of young adult novels and founder of Parkdale Street Writers, concocted the school as a platform for emerging talent, a sort of left-field incubator for ideas.

Hirsh describes the Academy in idealistic terms, calling it a “classroom for the future” and an “open-source social enterprise.”

“Online, anything seems to be possible, the barriers to entry so low that people really try to achieve and accomplish some pretty incredible and impossible things,” he says. “People grind away in online environments and social games tending virtual farms and slaying virtual dragons. Why not translate some of that back into the real world?”

The Academy of the Impossible may prove to be an effective model. Hirsh hopes it will be a modernizing influence on the Ivory Tower, which stubbornly sticks to traditional schooling. “I hope to provide an example for traditional educational institutions on how to adapt to learning in the age of the internet.”

Learning in this school is just like on the internet, where bits of data are exchanged peer-to-peer.

The first lecture, tonight, features iconic columnist Rick Salutin discussing the role of the media and technology in the many protests of 2011.

It will somehow segue into a 10-event series called Hacking Reality, applying the tenets of computer hacking to the real world.

All this makes better sense when I read the quote at the bottom of the Academy’s website: “The Academy of the Impossible is not hard to understand. You just need to relax your focus.” – Jesse Hirsh.

joshuae@nowtoronto.com | twitter.com/joshuaerrett

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